My last guest post on tuition created a bit of discussion in the comments. Another idea that is being floated in regards to tuition comes from the New York State Yeshiva Parents Association lead by Elliot Pasik. In a February 2007 letter to various NYS Senators and Committee Chairs, the association writes these points about the cost of Yeshiva Education and how the NY governments can partner with religious parents to help alleviate the costs associated with a Yeshiva/Day School Education. (Note: This is NOT a push for a miracle such as vouchers. It is a long read for a blog post, but please hang in there. . . especially since I couldn't remember how to copy text from a PDF document and I typed this manually. . . . thank goodness I type fast, my parents insisted I take typing in summer school, which I did more than once). And, of course, add your comments.
8. The tuition burden for nonpublic religious school parents is well past the breaking point. The norm is for middle-class orthodox Jewish families, with two full-time working parents, and three-to-six children, annually paying between twenty and forty thousand dollars per year, every year, for k-12 yeshiva/Hebrew day school education. This backbreaking tuition burden contributes to numerous negative social consequences including, debt, substance abuse, family instability, divorce, and kids-at-risk. The Jewish media is filled with recent articles addressing the yeshiva tuition problem, but unfortunately, little of practical nature is being done on a comprehensive basis. See, “The Tuition Squeeze: Paying the Price of Jewish Education”, Jewish Action, Fall 2005, Vol. 66, No. 1 (published by the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America); “The Tuition Dilemma”, The Jewish Observer, Jan/Feb. 2007, Vol. 40, No. 1 (published by Agudath Israel of America)’ Pasik, “Resolving the Tuition Crisis”, The Jewish Press, January 11, 2006, p. 1.
Government intervention, through the rule of law, can help. Public schools are, of course, required to reveal their finances, budgets, and salaries. Public scrutiny and Government oversight can and has led to taxpayer savings, and wiser spending.
Nonpublic religious schools should be subject to the same rules of financial transparency. Again, as required by law, education, whether public or nonpublic, is a public trust. How can nonpublic school parents determine whether their hard-earned tuition money is being wisely spent unless we see the financial books and records? How can the professional parents amongst us, with backgrounds in business and accounting, make suggests that will reduce spending, and lower tuition? Financial transparency is simply common sense.
9. The tuition burden for orthodox Jewish families can also be alleviated by a “two-building” solution for many. The First Amendment clearly prohibits religious instruction within public school buildings during the school day (McCollum v. Board of Education, 333 U.S. 203 (1948)), but there is no constitutional impediment for religious children studying secular subjects (e.g., arithmetic, reading, spelling, etc.) in public schools during, let’s say, the morning hours, and religious subjects in a yeshiva building in the afternoon. A two-building program like this could cut religious school tuitions by nearly half, and revitalize numerous public school districts by brining in new students. Educ. Law 3210(b) provides that, “Absense for religious observance and education shall be permitted under rules that the commissioner shall establish.” Under this statute, it would appear that public school districts could arrange for a program for the children of religious families to attend public schools for the study of essential secular subjects for a portion of the day, and then release them for religious education.
The is, however, a regulatory obstacle. Rule 109.2 of the Rules of the Commissioner of Education (8 N.Y.C.R.R. 109.2(e)) onerously provides that released time for religious education shall be a maximum of one hour per week. The rule states, “(A)bsense for a released time program, grade K-12, shall be for not more than one hour each week. . . “
We believe this is a patently unconstitutional regulation, that interferes with the First Amendment guarantee of Free Exercise of Religion. One hour per week for the study of the Jewish religion is simply not enough. We would expect that members of other faiths may feel the same about their religious educational needs.
Released time for religious instruction was held to be constitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in, Zorach v. Clauson, 343 U.S. 306 (1952), affg. 303 N.Y. 161. Justice William O. Douglas wrote the following, for the majority:
“We are a religious people whose institutions presuppose a Supreme Being. When the State encourages religious instruction or cooperates with religious authorities by adjusting the schedule of public events to sectarian needs, it then follows the best of our traditions, for it then respects the religious nature of our people and accommodates the public services to their spiritual needs. To hold that is may not would be to find in the Constitution a requirement that the government show a callous indifference to religious group. That would be preferring those who believe in no religious over those who do believe. We find no constitutional requirement which makes it necessary for government to be hostile to religion and throw its weight against efforts to widen the effective scope of religious influence.”
According to the web site, ReleasedTime.org, 31 states do not establish any hourly maximum for religious study released time. These 31 states flexibly allow public school districts to establish their own policies. Only 9 state, including New York, set a rock bottom maximum of one hour per week. The remaining states establish varying amounts of maximum released time.
We respectfully submit that New York should repeal its rule limiting religious study released time to one hour per week. New York, with its long history of commitment to civil liberties and civil rights, should joint he majority of those states that wisely allow local school districts to flexibly establish their own policies and rules, and thereby meet local needs. This would be particularly appropriate in New York, where we have significant orthodox Jewish populations venued in certain regions and neighborhoods throughout New York City, Long Island, Westchester, and Rockland County. Local school districts arranging for a “two-building” program could simultaneously alleviate the tuition crunch facing orthodox Jewish and other religious families, and revitablize their public schools. The recent October 24, 2006 annoucement by the U.S. Department of Educaiton that same-sex public schools will be allowed under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 gives impetus to this proposal. Orthodox Jewish children, and children of other faiths, can thereby partially attend same-sex public schools for the study of required secular subjects, without compromising their beliefs.
10. Finally, we support Gove. Spitzer’s proposal of $1,000 per child tuition tax credits for nonpublic school parents. This proposal can do much to alleviate the crushing tuition burden faced by nonpublic religious school families.